CAIRO — Ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s health has taken a turn for the worse since he was sentenced this weekend to life in prison for complicity in the killing of protesters, Egypt’s state news agency reported Tuesday night.
The 84-year-old has been in poor health for years. But reports of his condition deteriorating since being pushed out of power Feb. 11 last year have been met with skepticism by Egyptians, many of whom see them as part of an effort to seek leniency.
Tuesday’s report by the Middle East News Agency was unusually specific. It said relatives visited Mubarak on Monday night at the hospital wing of Cairo’s Tora prison, where he was taken after being sentenced Saturday. One of Mubarak’s sons, Gamal, who is being held on corruption charges, was transferred to the area where his father is being held because doctors wanted the ailing former president to be near relatives, MENA said.
Prison officials turned down Mubarak’s request to have two personal doctors brought to the prison to oversee his care, the Associated Press reported, citing an unnamed security official.
Hours before news of Mubarak’s deteriorating health emerged, thousands of Egyptians poured into Tahrir Square to protest the acquittal of six senior police officials charged in the killing of protesters during last year’s revolt. The officials had stood trial alongside Mubarak.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which has stayed on the sidelines of many such demonstrations since Mubarak’s ouster, endorsed Tuesday’s rally in an apparent attempt to burnish the revolutionary credentials of its presidential candidate, Mohamed Morsi, and stoke opposition to his rival, the pro-military secular candidate Ahmed Shafiq.
The turnout was remarkable for a Tuesday, a working day, eclipsing that of most protests held at the iconic square this year on Fridays, the customary day for demonstrations.
Tuesday’s rally provided the clearest sign to date that the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party — which has had a tense relationship with mainstream revolutionary groups and a strikingly close one with the ruling military — will run a firmly anti-military campaign as it seeks to defeat Shafiq, a former air force chief.
That effort appears to be gaining traction, but more as a result of the deeply rooted antipathy in revolutionary circles toward Shafiq than of fervent support for Morsi, an uncharismatic figure who was propelled to the front of the presidential race by the Brotherhood’s mighty political machine. The runoff election will be held June 16 and 17.
Clerics linked to Egypt’s renowned al-Azhar university, the brain trust of Sunni Islam, were chanting against Shafiq, an unusual sight for members of a group that is nominally apolitical.
“I support Morsi because he is a revolutionary candidate, not a Muslim Brotherhood candidate,” said Mohamed Yousef, an al-Azhar cleric. “The Muslim Brotherhood will not get enough votes unless all Egyptians unite.”
Winning over enough of those Egyptians who do not care for the Brotherhood but would reluctantly vote for Morsi because they are against Shafiq is seen as the Islamists’ best hope of defeating the Mubarak-era stalwart. But a considerable number of Egyptians say they intend to sit out the runoff. Sina Esaam, a 17-year-old student who participated in last year’s revolt, said she was disgusted by Morsi’s attempt to re-brand himself as a revolutionary.
“They have nothing to do with the revolution,” she said as Brotherhood supporters thronged around rally organizers who were singing Morsi’s praises and denouncing Shafiq. “Where were they from the beginning? Where were they when there was violence? They’re used to just using the revolution.”
Also Tuesday, Egypt’s military chiefs gave political parties two days to outline the criteria for the selection of a 100-member panel that will be tasked with writing a new constitution, state media reported. Failure to make progress on the appointment of the committee would prompt the military to draw up its own selection guidelines or restore the 1971 constitution, which was suspended after Mubarak’s ouster, the reports said.
Special correspondent Ingy Hassieb contributed to this report.